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Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

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Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

Date of Birth : Jun 29, 1893
Date of Death : Jun 28, 1972
Place of Birth : India

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis (June 29, 1893-June 28, 1972) was an Indian scientist and applied statistician. He is best known for the Mahalanobis distance, a statistical measure. He did pioneering work on anthropometric variation in India. He founded the Indian Statistical Institute, and contributed to large scale sample surveys. His father, Prabodh Chandra, was an active member of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. His mother, Nirodbasini, belonged to a family of considerable academic achievements. He graduated in Physics in 1912 from the Presidency College, Kolkata and completed Tripos at King’s College, Cambridge. He then returned to Calcutta. Inspired by the Biometrika and mentored by Acharya Brajendranath Seal he started his statistical work. Initially he worked on analyzing university exam results, anthropometric measurements on Anglo-Indians of Calcutta and some metrological problems. He also worked as a meteorologist for some time. In 1924, when he was working on the probable error of results of agricultural experiments, he met Ronald Fisher, with whom he established a life-long friendship. He also worked on schemes to prevent floods. His most important contributions are related to large scale sample surveys. He introduced the concept of pilot surveys and advocated the usefulness of sampling methods. His name is also associated with the scale free multivariate distance measure, the Mahalanobis distance. He founded the Indian Statistical Institute on 17 December, 1931.

In later life, he contributed prominently to newly independent India’s five-year plans starting from the second. His variant of Wassily Leontief’s Input-output model was employed in the second and later plans to work towards rapid industrialisation of India and with his colleagues at his institute, he played a key role in developing the required statistical infrastructure. He also had an abiding interest in cultural pursuits and served as secretary to Rabindranath Tagore, particularly during the latter’s foreign travels, and also his alma mater Visva Bharati University, for some time.He received one of the highest civilian awards Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India for his contribution to science and services to the country. He died on Jun 28, 1972, a day before his seventy-ninth birthday. Even at this age, he was still active doing research work and discharging his duties as the Secretary and Director of the Indian Statistical Institute and as the Honorary Statistical Advisor to the Cabinet of the Government of India. He had got Weldon Medal from Oxford University in 1944 and Padma Vibhushan in 1968. He was also elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London in 1945 and Honorary President of International Statistical Institute in 1957.

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